Language Fair is a fine place to widen horizons, students find
 April 10, 2005

By Tom Beal

"Guten Morgen," "Buenos dias," "Bonjour" - or a simple "Good morning" to all of you residents of this polyglot burg who still haven't mastered a second language.
It's never too late to learn, according to Dennis Evans, associate dean of the University of Arizona's College of Humanities, which hosted the Southern Arizona Language Fair Saturday - undoubtedly the only place in town where you'd see a sign that read: "Free Portuguese lessons and face-painting."
Evans said recent studies have debunked the notion that old dogs can't master the tricks of German, Spanish, French or Turkish. "There are still many brain cells left to accommodate language," Evans said.
Need inspiration?
Get it from Craig Call, a 15-year-old sophomore at Catalina Foothills High: "I love languages; they're just so cool."
Call was one of 1,450 students from kindergarten to college who gathered at the UA to test their proficiency or just put on a show in 14 languages.
Call recited a Pablo Neruda poem titled "Oda a la Pobreza" (Ode to Poverty). He plans to continue his Spanish studies through college, where he plans to study engineering. He's also learning Korean from his friends.
Aneesha Hoosain, a 16-year-old junior classmate of Call's, competed in Spanish proficiency. She also speaks English and Bengali and thinks it's important to "experience different cultures. It is important to be open-minded as well as bicultural," she said.
Hoosain expects to complete all the requirements for a university minor in Spanish by the time she completes high school, leaving her free to double-major in biology and chemistry. Then comes medical school and a career as a cardiologist, she said.
English is the second language for Michelle Nguyen, 15, of University High School, who grew up speaking Vietnamese. That's not enough in her family. "My mom is like, 'You have to learn more languages.' " So Michelle recited poetry Saturday in Vietnamese and Spanish.
Her classmate Anastacia Garland, also 15, has parental pressure to thank for her budding multilingualism as well.
Mom, Christine, an Air Force reservist, came back from Operation Desert Storm, where she was thrown together with a group of German contractors speaking that language. She started speaking it at home, along with Spanish.
It rubbed off on her daughter. "I want to learn Spanish and German," Anastacia Garland said. "I want to go to Germany and be able to speak the language."
Spanish, as you might expect, was the big language on campus Saturday, but the roster included everything from American Sign and Arabic to Urdu and Vietnamese.
This year's fair set records for attendance and for the number of languages represented, said Evans, who complimented Humanities Dean Charles Tatum for offering to host the fair when school districts lost funding for it, and praised the area's language teachers, who keep the language lamp burning despite cutbacks and legal challenges to bilingual teaching.
"There is a nucleus of educators in Southern Arizona who remain committed to language teaching and learning through all the tough times. They have really kept the faith and kept these programs going," Evans said.
● Contact Tom Beal at 573-4158 or